Say what you want about whether the recent Canadian election was a waste of time; at worst it was only a waste of 35 days.
By Ryan McGreal
Published November 04, 2008
Update: read a post-election report.
The US federal election season has ground along for some sixteen months now, since the first contenders for party nomination threw their hats in the ring in late 2007, and I'm friggin' exhausted.
The result of today's election looks a lot like a fait accompli. Democratic candidate Barack Obama's lead over Republican candidate John McCain actually increased in the last poll, to an eleven point spread.
McCain has run a truly abysmal campaign. He has reversed positions on contentious issues multiple times, contradicted himself even within the same appearance, and frequently come across as angry, sarcastic and immature.
His selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate seemed to pump new momentum into his flagging bid, even as a series of Palin scandals rolled down the newswire and called into question McCain's thoroughness at selecting and vetting her.
Then she opened her mouth on TV without a prepared script, and the carefully prepared image of Palin as a gutsy, straight-talkin' maverick started to unravel.
Her positions on same sex marriage, sex education and abortion were extreme enough to galvanize a fundamentalist and evangelical Republican base that had found McCain himself to be insufficiently radical, but those same qualifications alienated the non-committed moderate voters McCain needed to pull ahead.
Further, Palin appears to have absolutely no knowledge of, or interest in, the big political issues that must occupy the executive team of the world's most powerful country.
Her knowledge of economics and foreign policy is simply absent, as evidenced painfully on the rare occasions when a journalist had the chance to ask her a question that fell outside her crash training in Republican talking points.
Even worse, the major financial crisis that has dominated the last two months of the campaign has been disastrous for McCain's credibility.
For years he was a champion of exactly the selective deregulation that resulted in a string of bankruptcies at investment houses, the emergency nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two quasi-public mortgage guarantors, and a sustained drought in available credit that is starving the economy of capital.
A recent Obama attack ad quoted McCain from 2007 saying he would need to pick a running mate with expertise in economics to make up for his own shortfall. It flashed the text, "HIS CHOICE:" and then showed a clip of Palin winking.
He cost himself yet more credibility during the ridiculous stunt in which he "suspended" his campaign to race back to the Capitol and try to hammer out a government bailout for banks and investment houses struggling with trillions of dollars in worthless mortgage backed securities.
By the time he actually arrived back in Washington several days after announcing his suspension, Congress had already worked out most of the details of a deal that was quickly signed into law.
But McCain's biggest shame has been the sheer sleaze of his communications program. The same senator who cried foul in 2000 when George W. Bush's campaign team spread vile rumours about McCain during the Republican primaries has since embraced the dark side, with a seemingly unending stream of lies and distortions intended to impugn Obama's integrity.
McCain and his supporters have accused Obama of:
The sheer sleaziness of the increasingly desperate McCain/Palin campaign, which is much more about what Obama might do than what McCain will do, has spilled over into their supporters, who can often be clearly heard yelling epithets like "he's a terrorist", "he's a n*****!", and "kill him" during McCain and Palin speeches - though neither McCain nor Palin have stopped to denounce these attacks.
Perhaps surprisingly, McCain's smears have not had the intended effect. If anything, they seem to be repelling moderate voters who have sat on the fence until now. This may be due at least in part to the Obama campaign's highly effective efforts to challenge the accusations and fight back.
In fact, given the tracking polls over the past several weeks, it looks like this election is a shoo-in for Obama.
At the same time, voter suppression has emerged as a potential deal-breaker for Obama's White House bid. Between computer systems for matching voter IDs with voting lists that are riddled with errors, mass voter list purges (including purges that violate election laws in several states), so-called "caging lists", refusing the vote to people whose names appear on foreclosure lists, rejecting voter registrations based on errors in complicated forms that duplicate information in more than one section, and making it difficult for students living out of state to vote, among other dirty tricks.
Many constituencies still use touch-screen voting machines that are susceptible to "vote flipping" - the voter presses the screen for a candidate but the machine records a vote for a different candidate. Whether due to miscalibration, design flaws or deliberate tampering, these are notoriously unreliable and many still lack an auditable paper trail.
The Obama campaign has prepared for this with the "the largest law firm in the country" to monitor the election and fight against abuses - including nearly 5,000 lawyers in Florida.
Despite how well things look for Obama, this election is far from settled. In addition to voter suppression, Obama may be susceptible to the so-called "Bradley Effect", an observation made by social scientists that in US elections where a white candidate runs against a non-white candidate, the actual votes for the non-white candidate are slightly lower than polls indicate.
The theory is that some people who plan to vote against a non-white candidate are afraid to admit it before the fact, lest they be accused of prejudice.
More recent research seems to indicate that the span of the Bradley Effect has been shrinking over the past two decades, from 3.1 percent in 1989 to almost zero in 2006.
If I was a betting man, I would lay money down that Obama will win the electoral college in a landslide; but I called the 2004 election wrongly for Kerry.
At the same time, Obama has run a much better campaign than Kerry did. Unlike Kerry, who twisted himself inside out to avoid saying anything offensive, changed his message several times and failed to fight back against the Swiftboat smears, Obama has been confident, consistent, and combative in his response to Republican attacks.
In short, he has looked positively Presidential, and American voters seem to have grown comfortable with the idea of this young, politically inexperienced first-term Senator as the next leader of the USA. He is a pragmatic, moderate conservative with liberal leanings, he surrounds himself with smart advisors and supporters, and he remains calm and sensible even during a crisis.
So, a polite note to America: just vote for him already and be done with it! Elect him with such a big majority that there's no way to call the results into question. Elect him with such a big majority that everyone goes to bed tonight with no question about the results. Elect him with such a big majority that the results don't have to be settled in court or on cable news yellfests. Show the rest of the world that the birthplace of modern democracy still knows how to run an election.
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